Updated: Apr 25
Blends of people, languages, cultures, and experiences are what permeates the identity of a Third Culture Kid (TCK). While each TCK’s upbringing is as different as the next one, each of our stories contributes to a beautiful tapestry of globalization and intercultural connectedness.
One aspect of our upbringing is how we are parented.
While this story does not claim to represent the parenting style of all TCKs, it is a weave in a tapestry that hopes to share insight as to how my non-TCK parents raised me into a proud (and somewhat-functional, as well as relatively well-adjusted) Adult Third Culture Kid (ATCK).
But first, let’s get the basics out of the way. A Third Culture Kid has been defined as, “a person who has spent a significant part of his or her developmental years outside the parents’ cultures, while not having full ownership in any. Although elements from each culture are assimilated into the TCK’s life experience, the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar background” (Pollock and Van Reken, 2001: 19). TCKs experience transitions more often than children who stayed within their culture and community during their developmental years. (Lijadi & Schalkwyk, 2014). While mobility patterns vary widely among TCKs, at one point or another, most will probably have had to relearn basic cultural practices and principles. Their developmental years are filled with sporadic forms of stress such as culture shock, reverse culture shock, acculturative stress, and unresolved grief that most likely affect not just their cognitive development but also their sense of identity, as well.
According to Erik Erikson’s Stages of Psychosocial Development, it is observed that adolescents who effectively resolve their personal identity crisis tend to develop and achieve their own states of ego identity or what Maslow might call, self-actualization. Other sources also agree that those who fail to form their identity in their youth or early adulthood can become subject to ‘identity confusion’ (Bushong, 2013; Blair-Broeker and Ernst, 2008). In that brief summary of TCKs, it is fairly apparent that there are psychological risks when growing up as a Third Culture Kid. Therefore, it is also apparent that the role of a Third Culture Kid’s parents is vital in helping the TCK manage and cope with all cross-cultural stresses, as well as the growing pains of being a “normal” child.
Full disclosure, I am not a parent. Despite being a first-grade teacher in an international school in Jakarta, I do not yet have the privilege of parenting the next generation of Third Culture Kids. However, as an Adult Third Culture Kid who has non-TCK parents, I would just like to share my observations as to how my parents helped me and my brother cope with constant changes and unknowns throughout our developmental years, how they laid the foundation for us to discover and embrace our multicultural identities with excitement, pride, and tenacity.
My first observation is how our parents planted our cultural roots deep within us.
For me, between 8 to 18 years old, the “childhood years” that I was living outside my passport country, they intentionally embedded our Filipino identity within us.
We spoke Bisaya when we were together as a family. They did and still do ask us to mano all the Filipino titos and titas we meet abroad. My mother frequently cooked Filipino food on a daily basis. My father would tell us stories of his childhood, as well as the radio dramas and stories he grew up with. In our first few years abroad, they invested in flights for us to go back “home” to Cebu every summer to reconnect with our relatives and friends. My parents are proud of their roots. They are proud of our culture and they extended that Filipino pride in us. While my brother and I may not have grown up in the motherland, we have enough understanding of that culture to embrace it as our own.
Now on the opposite end of that pendulum, my parents also exposed and immersed us into the “new world” to which they brought us. Throughout our developmental years, they took us everywhere with them. As children, we went with them to their university lectures, the expat ladies’ afternoon tea, golf at the military driving range, international Bible study groups, as well as weekly road trips to Northern Thailand. In the early years of our time abroad, my brother and I were immersed in a local Thai Catholic school where we learned the language and gleaned from the culture. When we lived in Virginia for three years, we excitedly attended the local public schools. When we moved back to Thailand, this time studying at an international school, there were more cultures for us to absorb and adapt. Like any TCKs, we learned, we adapted, and we grew. Throughout this process, there definitely were intercultural tensions in our household along the way, especially during the teenage years. However, my parents knew when to stand firm and when to compromise. In a nutshell, that is the short version of how my mother took my brother to get his ear pierced in tenth grade.
Lastly, my parents lived and reflected their faith. They still do. Because they are secure and assured in their faith, they trust that the decisions they make are loving and reflective of their values and beliefs. As cliche as it is, my parents practice what they preach. They walk their talk and as their children, we, witness the devoted life that they live. With that in mind, it is common sense for a TCK to learn and adapt to what is good, what is growing. Were my parents’ lives comfortable? Not necessarily. Is their life free of pain and disappointments? Of course not. However, they have security in their faith. At its core, this last observation is the key ingredient that brings in the other two elements together in how they raised two Third Culture Kids to become two Adult Third Culture Kids well.
Again, these observations on parenting are merely from one perspective of countless more who grew up in cultures outside the ones that their passport claims. However, when someone asks me, “where is home for you?”, as someone who is currently a modern-day nomad and a single, female Adult Third Culture Kid who has embraced the constant unknown in 2020’s semi-apocalyptic world, I would answer, “my parents are my home”. Where my family is, that’s my current home. While I am enjoying adulthood as a multicultural, globalized citizen, I am constantly thankful for my parents who raised me, who raised us the way they did. Because let’s be real, raising a child is hard enough as it is. Raising a Third Culture Kid? You’re practically a superhero.
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Written by: Mildred Grace Guadez Morelos, 32, Philippines
Instagram: @gracewonders | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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